Today we began a parish mission in Immaculate Conception Parish, Melbourne Beach. I’m preaching at the Sunday Masses and Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at Masses at 8 AM and 7 Pm.
Here’s the sermon at the Sunday liturgy.
“We would like to see Jesus”
In his remarkable books on Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict describes his own personal search for God as he follows Jesus through the mysteries of his life, death and resurrection. Jesus is the way to see the face of God. The pope, who spent most of his life as a theologian, understands especially how modern scholarship has influenced the way we see Jesus.
The figure of Jesus has become “more and more blurred” today by different interpretations of him, the pope says. For example, some say that “Jesus was an anti-Roman revolutionary working–though finally failing–to overthrow the ruling powers.” For others, “ he was the weak moral teacher who approves everything and unaccountably comes to grief.” Jesus loves everybody and everything goes.
What we face today, the pope says, is widespread skepticism about our ability to know Jesus at all. “This is a dramatic situation for faith, because its point of reference (Jesus Christ) is being placed in doubt: Intimate friendship with Jesus, on which all else depends, is in danger of clutching at thin air.” The pope wrote his books on Jesus of Nazareth to affirm who Jesus is and what he means to us and to our world. They’re worth reading.
( Jesus of Nazareth, From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, Ignatius Press 2008, foreward xi)
It’s true what he says, isn’t it? If you go into the religion section in a big book store like Barnes and Noble today, you face an array of books about Jesus Christ that see him in totally different ways. If you search the internet, you find the same situation. The figure of Jesus becomes “more and more blurred;” some wonder if we can see him at all. Then, of course, others say he’s totally irrelevant to our times and our lives.
That’s why today’s gospel (John 12,20-33)–part of the Palm Sunday event we’ll celebrate next Sunday– is so interesting. Let’s look at its context. Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead. A crowd is ready to acclaim him by casting palm branches before him as he enters Jerusalem, crying “Hosanna to the Son of David.” Many of them see him as a political messiah, someone who is going to change the government and restore Judaism to its golden age. As his popularity grows, his enemies see him as a dangerous troublemaker in a volatile time and place. Jerusalem’s religious establishment has decided to kill him. Jesus, of course, sees death coming.
Even before he enters the Garden of Gethsemane, he’s fearful about what lies before him.
Just then, some Greeks approach Philip and Andrew and say, “We would like to see Jesus.” It seems like a minor thing, some Greeks requesting to see him, but John’s gospel loves simple signs like this, signs that point to something else, signs that point to glory.
The Greeks who come to Jesus tell us it’s not the end, but the beginning. They come as Jesus approaches his death, like the Magi who approached him at his birth. They’re people from afar; they’re the first of many, the promise that others will come from the east and the west, from centuries beyond his own.
And Jesus rejoices at their coming. At this crucial uncertain time, when so many misunderstand him, when so many oppose him, so many ignore him, these strangers want to see him.
He sees the lasting fruitfulness of his mission on earth. “Like a grain of wheat I will fall to the ground and die, but if I die I’ll bring much fruit.” “My soul is troubled now, yet what shall I say, “Father, save me from this hour. But it was for this hour I have come.” His Father gives him this sign to strengthen him.
The unnamed Greeks received an immense grace when they saw Jesus at this time. An immense grace can come to us when we see Jesus at a time like theirs, when we search for him and find him.
The Greeks see him as seed falling to the ground, as the one rejected by his own, as a suffering man who dies on a cross. Shall we join them?
Help us see signs like those you gave them, Lord,
Unexpected signs like the mystery of your cross,
Dark signs like a church in decline,
Small signs like Bread and Wine
And Words from an old Book.
We want to see you, Jesus.